Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Living Under Lordship and Living Under Law - Mark 2:23-28

When I was a student in Bible College, I worked weekends in a Christian Bookstore. One day two teenage girls came in looking for a Bible. I was trying to help them find one that they could understand and might provide some study aids for them, but one of them spoke up: “Is it King James? It has to be King James!” I asked her why it had to be King James, and she said, “My pastor said I have to get the King James Version.” I chuckled and said, “What is your pastor’s name?” She told me, and I said, “Oh, I know him!” And she said, “Oh please don’t tell him you saw me wearing shorts.” I still scratch my head about the confusion this little girl lived in. She was bound up by the rules and regulations imposed on her, not by the Bible, but by her pastor. Yet, this young girl was willing to violate certain of these rules imposed upon her by her pastor, so long as the pastor didn’t know about it, yet to break other ones was unthinkable. Such is life when you live under law. You don’t have to spend time trying to decide what the right thing to do is in a situation – someone else has already decided it for you. You only have to decide whether or not you will abide by it.

Now there is an opposite extreme to this, and it is living under lawlessness. This person is a law unto himself. He does what he wants to do, when and how he wants to do it, and no one can tell him any different. It is obvious that we want to avoid both of these extremes, and the way to do that is to find ourselves living under Lordship. Living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ means that sometimes, the decision is not cut and dry, and has not been spelled out for me by someone else, so I have to talk it over with my Lord and allow Him to direct me as I consider His will, His Word, and His ways.

Living under the law, I don’t have to wrestle with issues. Chances are, someone has already spelled out a ruling about my situation, and I merely need to refer to the experts and allow them to tell me what to do. It is not always easy to do those things, but it is easy to not have to think about it, pray about it, or seek godly counsel about it. It becomes automatic. The law says this, so I do it. God gave Israel a law, but His law was given with the built-in understanding that those who would seek to abide by it would also be living under His lordship. Therefore, not every minuscule variation of circumstances and situations are spelled out in the Law. Some things are left for the individual to determine as he or she lives under God’s Lordship. But for many in Israel’s history, this task was too daunting. It would be much easier if someone would do the thinking for them and spell out how they should act, react, or choose in any given circumstance. Such was the case with the Sabbath.

The Jews had two things to distinguish them from everyone else in the world: circumcision and the Sabbath. As such, the Sabbath was promoted and defended not only with religious zeal but also with nationalistic fervor. To violate the Sabbath was to be an infidel and a traitor, and it was punishable by death. The Sabbath Commandment was the fourth and longest of the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:8-11 says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” The Sabbath was to be holy and set apart, a day to rest the body and to turn one’s thoughts above the daily concerns of this life and to focus one’s thoughts completely on the things of God.

There was to be “no work” done on the Sabbath, beginning at Sundown Friday until Sundown Saturday. Seven Old Testament passages dealt with the kinds of work to be avoided on the Sabbath: Exodus 16:22-30 – the gathering and preparing of food; Ex 34:21 – plowing and harvesting; Ex 35:2-3 – kindling a fire; Numbers 15:32-36 – gathering wood; Nehemiah 10:31 and 13:15-22 – buying and selling; Jeremiah 17:21-22 – carrying a load. Now, we would not consider that list of prohibitions burdensome, and would recognize that there are many things not covered by this list. Because the Pharisees, the scribes, and the religious experts of the day wanted to leave nothing to chance, they developed a complex list of regulations of what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. Even though their codified regulations exceeded the boundaries of Scripture, but were nonetheless considered binding upon the people of Israel.

For instance, it was prohibited for a person to journey more than 2,000 cubits from home on the Sabbath. That is approximately 3,000 feet or 1 kilometer. Anything heavier than a dried fig was considered a burden and could not be carried on the Sabbath. It was forbidden for a woman to look in a mirror on the Sabbath, lest she notice a grey hair and pluck it out. In all, there were 24 chapters of Sabbath regulations in the Mishnah. They enlarged and expanded upon the relatively simple Sabbath Law of the Bible, and formulated regulations concerning every imaginable scenario. However, in most cases, these regulations violated the central purpose of the Biblical Sabbath.

The intention of the Biblical Sabbath Law was to provide people a day of rest in order that the people might worship. However, nowhere in these Sabbath regulations was any thought given to the spiritual significance of the day or to the worthiness of God for our worship. The spiritual significance of the day was transformed into a complicated code of external and burdensome regulations. A person had to work harder to keep from breaking the Sabbath than they would if they committed one of the infractions specified in the minutia of these codes.

This was the world in which Jesus lived. It was a world full of people who were striving to live under law. But they were not striving to honor God by living under His holy and righteous Law. The Law of God had been fenced in by the man-made restrictions of the religious leaders of the day. And the people were not motivated by a pious fear of God, but of a dreadful fear of man – that they would be caught innocently performing some harmless action, and dragged before the rulers and sentenced to die the death of an infidel and a traitor. There were Pharisees, and scribes, and religious experts always watching who was doing what on the Sabbath – working hard to make sure no one was working. And on a particular Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples were nabbed.

Walking through the grainfield, the disciples began to pick the heads of grain. Luke says they were rubbing them together in their hands to get the husks off so they could eat it. Matthew says they were hungry. And from out of the blue, the piety police came out and said to Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” Now, according to the Old Testament Law, what they were doing was not illegal in itself. There were provisions in the Old Testament Law allowing a person to pluck grain from another’s field with their hands, but not to harvest it with a sickle. In fact, farmers were required under Old Testament Law to not harvest their crops all the way to the corners of the field for this very purpose. There is a built-in sense of compassion in the Law for human needs. But the issue here is not what they were doing, but when they were doing it. They were doing it on the Sabbath.

Clearly, what they were doing was not unbiblical, however it violated the rabbinic Sabbath laws. Those regulations stipulated that if a person plucked a head of grain, he was reaping. If a person rolls wheat to remove the husks, it is considered sifting. If he rubs the heads, it is regarded as threshing; if the wheat is tossed up into the air, it is winnowing.[1] So the infraction of the disciples was two-fold: in their plucking, they were reaping; and in their rubbing as Luke describes in his gospel, they were threshing. While it is true that harvesting was forbidden in the Old Testament on the Sabbath, I don’t believe any one using common sense would mistake plucking a few heads of grain by hand with harvesting. However, so narrowly and precisely had the Law been interpreted, these actions of the disciples were expressly forbidden in the eyes of the Pharisees.

Jesus did not debate the Pharisees over this issue. They asked why and He answered them. And I suggest to you today that His answer might be summarized in this way: Why do they do what they do on the Sabbath? Because they live under Lordship and not Law. And Jesus’ statement about life under Lordship involves three components: a passage, a principle, and a pronouncement. You have decisions to make in life which are not spelled out precisely in God’s Word. When you can turn to a specific chapter and verse that speaks directly to the issue you are facing, it is an easy choice. But all too often you can’t do this. But by examining the Lord’s passages, His principles, and His pronouncements, you can make godly decisions and live godly lives under Christ’s Lordship as well.

I. Living Under Lordship Requires a Knowledge of Passages (vv25-26)

The Pharisees came against Jesus with man-made religious regulations. Jesus countered them by pointing them to the Word of God. He says, “Have you never read …?” Why, of course they had read it. They were experts in the religion of Israel. But Jesus phrases the question in such a way to say, “If you know so much about the Bible, how can you even ask Me a question like this?” And the passage He points them to is from 1 Samuel 21, involving an episode in the life of David as he was fleeing from Saul. When David came to the Tabernacle at Nob, the priest allowed him to take the consecrated bread from the Tabernacle which was only to be eaten by the priests. This was specified in Lev 24:5-9. David was not a priest. He was not yet even rightfully coronated as the king. Yet, he was hungry and the priest gave him this consecrated bread, and nowhere do we read that David, his men, or the priest suffered any rebuke from God or any calamity of judgment because of it.

The point Jesus is making in the reference to this passage is that David’s need for food was more important than ritual observance. God would not have been honored if the priest had said, “Well, listen, I know your hungry, but all I have is this bread – it is a special holy-bread – and you have to be a priest to eat it, and well, since you aren’t a priest, sorry.” No, God’s laws were given to instill love, and mercy, and compassion in His people. God’s priests were to be His representatives before the people. To turn away a hungry person because he was not a priest would be the opposite of godly compassion. It would be to declare that God was more interested in external rituals than human life. But this is not so, and that is the point Jesus is making. God would not prefer that the disciples go hungry so as to not violate some man-made Sabbath regulation. They were hungry, like David. David ate food which was unlawful to eat, but the disciples ate food which was ordinarily lawful for them to eat. And the Sabbath ordinances of the Bible did not prohibit this, only those man-made regulations. For the Pharisees to accuse Jesus’ disciples of sin here would be to call David, the greatest King of Israel’s history, an infidel as well. And there was no way they were about to do that!

Now, as you wrestle with a decision which is not spelled out precisely for you in the Scriptures, you don’t need a religious authority to give you a rule to follow. If you live under Lordship, you turn to the passages of the Bible and say, “Were there ever any occasions where God’s people were dealing with something similar – maybe not the same, but similar – that I can learn from?” And if you have been a student of the Word then you are able to recall, “Oh yes, there was that time when Gideon, or Hezekiah, or Mephibosheth, or whoever, was doing that thing.” And you draw from that passage an illustration of how you might honor God with your decision as well. So living under Law requires having an expert to tell you what to do. Living under Lordship involves knowing the passages of Scripture and being able to recognize parallels between your situation and those of the people God blessed as they walked with Him. Then you may draw from those passages some instruction or guidance as you make your decision under the Lordship of Christ.

II. Living Under Lordship Requires an Understanding of the Principles (v27)

Jesus said to the Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. It was God’s gift to man – not intended to put us in a straight-jacket of regulations, but to free us from daily concern and provide us rest from our labor and an opportunity for worship.[2] However, the regulations of the Pharisees were contrary to this principle, and in fact, distracted man from both rest and worship because of a fruitless obsession about what could and could not be lawfully done.

Now, here Jesus is not citing a passage, but employing a principle. When we take the whole of Scripture as a unit, and compare its passages with one another, we are often able to deduce certain principles on proper attitudes and actions which are not otherwise spelled out with precision. Here Jesus does just this by comparing the teachings of the creation account with the teachings concerning the Sabbath in the Law and the examples of the Sabbath in the historical narratives. None of these passages contradict any of the others, but all fit together hand-in-hand. Therefore, Jesus employs a principle as if to say, “If you understand what God’s word teaches in its entirety, then you know that this is not unlawful on the Sabbath.”

Today is “Sanctity of Life Sunday.” Every year, we set aside this day to emphasize that God values human life and therefore we ought to strive to preserve life as best as we can. One of the areas where this is most critical in our own day is the issue of abortion. Now, someone will say, “Show me where in the Bible it says that it is a sin to have an abortion.” This person has gone to the concordance and looked under “A” and found no mention of abortion and has concluded therefore that it must be OK since the Bible doesn’t speak of it. Well, although there are no passages which deal directly with it, there is a principle we draw by comparing Scripture with Scripture. First, we know that Genesis 1:27 teaches that man is created in the image of God. Second, we know from Exodus 20:13 that the taking of human life is absolutely forbidden. Third, we know there are passages like Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1:4-5 where God speaks of His knowledge of a person and His sovereign plan for that life while they are still in the womb. Fifth, we know that the Bible speaks of activity and awareness of the unborn, such as the case in Luke 1:40 with John the Baptist when he leapt for joy while still in his mother’s womb when Mary came to her pregnant with Jesus. Sixth, we know that the Law declared in Exodus 21:22-25 that a person who struck a pregnant woman so that she miscarried her unborn child was guilty of a crime punishable by death. And we could go on further with more passages, but already we see how from these separate passages, we can draw principles – that the unborn child is very human and already an image-bearer of God, and that the taking of an unborn life is murder in the eyes of God. And if we live under Lordship, then we are looking to draw principles from Scripture which will enable us to make well-informed, God-honoring decisions, as opposed to using “scriptural silence” as an excuse for the doing of whatsoever we desire in our flesh.

When you live under Law, and there are no Biblical propositions relating to your circumstances, you call in the expert and say, “Here is my situation. Can I do this, or should I not do that?” But, when you live under Lordship, you look at the passages, and from them you draw principles which guide you in your decision making.

III. Living Under Lordship Requires Submission to the Pronouncements (v28)

“The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” This is the second time in Mark that Jesus has referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He will use this title to speak of Himself another dozen times. The title is a reference back to Daniel 7:13-14, which says, “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.” This Son of Man which Daniel prophesied was the One to whom all the authority of God would be given, the One whom all mankind should serve, the One who would reign forever and ever.

The Son of Man is Lord over all mankind. Therefore, since the Sabbath was made for man, He is Lord also over the Sabbath. Remember that this whole passage, beginning at about verse 14 of Chapter 1 and extending to the middle of Chapter 3 deals with the controversies over the authority of Jesus. Here He makes a very bold pronouncement of authority. He was not claiming the authority to violate the Sabbath Law, but rather the authority to interpret it rightly. Jesus’ statement here says to the Pharisees, “You do not tell Me how to observe the Sabbath, you answer to Me for how you observe it.” Or more generally, “It is not your job to tell Me how I should live – it is My job to tell you.” Now the Pharisees have two choices in response to this pronouncement: they can submit to it or they can try to ignore it. The Sabbath is not to be served, rather the Lord is to be served. And Jesus is saying that these disciples have done nothing wrong for they serve Him as their Lord, and He does not lead them to violate the ordinance of God, though the expectations of man may not be met.

Jesus Christ is Lord over all. That is not a debatable proposition. It is an authoritative pronouncement. We have the same two choices. We can submit to His Lordship or we can try to ignore it and go on living as we choose. Either way, we will answer to Him. When we are wrestling with a decision that isn’t spelled out precisely in the Scriptures, we must ask ourselves, “What has the Lord pronounced about my relationship to Him?” He has said that He is Lord. That means that we do not live life for the satisfaction of our desires, but rather to please Him. So the question becomes, “Which alternative demonstrates my commitment to live under the Lordship of Christ?” I will give an account to Christ for the deeds done and not done during my life. Do I want to stand before Him and say, “Lord, I tried my best to satisfy the demands placed on me by others, even though at times it led me to violate your Lordship over my life”? Or do we want to say, “Lord, it has been my chief end to walk in your Lordship even when it meant that the expectations of men were left unmet”?

Life is full of decisions that we all must make. Sometimes, we can turn to the Scriptures and say, “Here we go, chapter and verse, the Bible tells me exactly what I should do.” Should I fudge my tax returns so that I get a greater refund? No, we have the plain admonition to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” We have a clear command to not bear false witness. Those are the easy ones. But the hard part is when there is no plain propositional statement. If we live under Law, we will go to the pastor, the priest, the rabbi, the expert, and say, “Tell me what to do!” If we live under Lordship, we know that we answer to God and not to man for our choices. We go to our Bibles and then to our knees. And we say, “Lord, I am not certain which way I should go here. But I see this passage that tells me how this great man or woman of God chose to honor You in a similar circumstance. I am able to put together several teachings and draw some principles that are consistent with the whole counsel of Your Word. And I am committed to honoring You as Lord over my life and all that is in my possession. Now guide me as I make this decision for You.” And you can be sure that He will honor your effort to live under His Lordship.

For someone here today that may mean making the most important of all life’s decisions – to put your faith and trust in Christ as your Savior. There can be no doubt about what God’s Word says in this regard: God so loved the world, He loved you so very much, that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever, you included, believes in Him would not perish, separated from God for eternity because of your sins, but that you would have eternal life. If you have never received Him as Savior and Lord, do that today. For others of you, you have done that, but you are facing a perplexing decision, and know not which way to choose. First, acknowledge His Lordship over your life. Renounce your own agenda, your own priorities, and the desires of your flesh and commit to do only that which is pleasing to Him. Then search out His Word. How has He led and blessed others in the pages of Scripture? What principles become clear as you compare passage with passage in the Bible? And as you do this, you can expect that He will guide you as you live under His Lordship.

· Appendix: The student of the Word will recognize what appears prima facie to be a contradiction here. Jesus refers to Abiathar as the high priest, when in fact it was his father Ahimelech with whom David dealt in the Samuel passage. How do we who believe in the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture reckon with this apparent contradiction? There have been many attempts, however, I am most persuaded by the following explanation. Abiathar became the high priest associated with David. There are many more references to him than to his father in the Old Testament. It is far more likely that the average person would recognize and be able to locate a passage or a section about Abiathar than they would about Ahimelech. Bear in mind that the Scriptures had not yet been divided into chapters and verses. Though we often complain about the senseless divisions we often encounter, we ought to be thankful that someone took the time to give us these handy reference points for locating passages. Jesus (or Mark, or Peter) is not mistaken in saying, “Abiathar,” but rather is using a commonly employed way of locating a passage. The hearer might turn to a scroll and find a section about Abiathar and then could backtrack to the passage in question. He would undoubtedly discover that this took place before Abiathar was high priest, but he would have never found the passage otherwise. While there are several other plausible suggestions as to how to make sense of this apparent discrepancy, this one seems most satisfactory to me.

[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993), 512.

[2] Walter Wessel, “Mark” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 638.

No comments: